Thursday, October 16, 2008

Politics and Perception

Here in Canada we have just finished a federal election while the US presidential election has three more weeks to go (it seems that it has been going on for ages). One characteristic that stands out in these election campaigns is the tremendous amount of negativity in the campaigns. Here in Canada the Conservatives ran attack ads that said that Dion (the Liberal leader) was too much of a risk. At the same time the Liberals and the New Democrats ran ads that said much the same thing about Harper (the Conservative leader). It seems to me that things might be even worse in the US campaign. Generally, it seems to me that each side (not always officially) seeks to portray their opponent as being incompetent or corrupt. Experts tell us that these kind of attacks in fact work. Attack ads are able to move voters from one opinion to another. The problem, I think, is that at the same time these ads create a public perception of politicians in general. In other words, if during an election campaign both sides spend huge amounts of money trying to convince the public that their opponents are incompetent, corrupt, or possibly immoral then at the end of the campaign politicians in general should not be surprised when the voting public is generally of the opinion that all politicians are incompetent, or corrupt, or immoral. Another problem of course is that this negativity has an impact on politicians ability (it seems to me) to work together to solve serious problems facing the country. Sure, they talk about putting negativity aside but why, for example, would Prime Minister Harper want to work with Newfoundland premier Danny Williams when Williams has called him every name under the sun and actively campaigned against the Conservative party in the election. Politics, ideally, is a competition of ideas. When politics start to be about character assassination this has to effect the ability of the political system to function in the interests of the whole country.

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